Virtual Advocacy Primer

This toolkit will show you with empirical evidence the best ways to communicate with and engage policymakers in this new world.

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A New Era for Advocacy

Congress’s communication style is slow to change—they had a Western Union for telegraphs into the 1970s and almost no one had blackberries before 9/11.

In much the same way, the pandemic is pushing congressional offices into the digital age: decreasing number of in-person meetings, increasing number of virtual meetings and relying much more on digital communication via Facebook, Twitter, their email newsletter, their website and other media. 1

This toolkit will show you with empirical evidence the best ways to communicate with and engage policymakers in this new world.

Compared to the months prior to the COVID-10 crisis, has your Senator/Representative done more of, less of, or about the same number of the following activities in the past two months?


Educate Yourself

  • Visit the ICBA Action Center for up-to-date info on your member, important bills and our Asks
  • Visit their website and sign up for their newsletter
    • Some offices have a splash page right on the homepage
    • On others, you’ll need to click “Contact,” then “Newsletter”
  • Set up a Google news alert for local media
    • Go to Google’s news alert website and sign in
    • Set up a few alerts by putting in quotation marks the Member your following’s name and title and the topic (for example, “Sen. Smith” “banking” / “Sen. Jones” “finance” / “Sen. Jones” “CARES Act” / “Sen. Smith” “Paycheck Protection Program”) 
    • Click “Create Alert”
    • You can select how often you’d like to get alerted (to your email) and what sources, language and region 
  • Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Compared to the months prior to the COVID-10 crisis, has your Senator/Representative done more of, less of, or about the same number of the following activities in the past two months?

Virtual Meetings

  • Look at their website to review their scheduling process; be sure to complete every step of that process; this will make it easy for them to give you priority access (think: TSA Pre-check).
  • Your request (using our template) should include: what the plan is (tour, meeting), what you will discuss (specific issues and relevancy to the district), the participants (with ZIPs) and pertinent background information (one-pagers, etc.) 
  • Call the office for any clarification or to hammer out any details (software preference, length).
  • Allow up to a week for them to reply.
  • Follow up with a call, email, Facebook message and/or Twitter direct message if necessary.
  • Thank them for scheduling the meeting.
  • Alert relevant staff at the bank of the meeting.
  • Tell ICBA about the meeting ([email protected]).

  • Do research on your member of Congress (start with their profile and top community bank bills in our action center), visit their website, sign up for their newsletter, set up news alerts and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Decide who will be in the meeting and what you will do (show them our short video, decide if you want to give them a virtual tour, etc.). Provide meeting attendees with background and research materials as necessary.
  • Craft the story you want to tell
    • What do you want them to do? – Be clear and concise; stick to 1-2 issues.
    • Why? – Help them explain why they agree with you.
    • What is the local impact? – How will it impact the district (i.e. voters).
    • What’s the personal story? – Incorporate your research; be concise, passionate, and real.
    • What will your ask be? – Direct and doable.
  • REHEARSE! You will save them time and show them the efficiencies and personal touch that community banks offer.
    • Become familiar with the software platform they prefer (Zoom, GoToMeeting, etc.)
    • Do an entire test run that includes ensuring lighting and sound are excellent; consider investing in external mic and lights (so our message is heard, but also to set you apart from everyone else) Backlight the computer (windows behind the computer, lighting up your face).
    • Assign a tech director for the meeting.
    • Plan time for questions.
  • Prepare for follow-up NOW.
    • Pre-draft thank you emails before the meeting occurs (template available) with space to answer their questions.
    • Block off 30 mins on your calendar within two days after the meeting to complete follow-up.

  • All community banking attendees should be there 15 minutes beforehand to work out any kinks.
  • Limit to no more than 4 videos to a screen at a time.
  • Thank them for joining you.
  • Address members of Congress by proper title.
  • Execute your plan.
  • Have a backup plan for technological issues (another phone line or Zoom account).
  • Be cognizant of time—don’t run long.
  • Make a clear and direct Ask.
  • Leave time for questions.
  • Thank them again.

  • Follow-up starts before the meeting even happens. Use the meeting draft email you wrote before the meeting, update and send it to your contact during the 15mins on your calendar you blocked off.
  • In your email, be sure to include a thank you, answer any questions, reiterate what you discussed and provide appropriate documents.
  • Your tone should be one of an expert for the financial industry and the economic conditions of your shared community; you can influence them with your expertise and knowledge.
  • Thank them publicly on Facebook and Twitter.

Virtual Town Halls

  • Town Halls will usually be announced in your Member’s newsletter, so subscribe on their website.
  • Log-on 15 minutes before the beginning of the Town Hall to work out any technological issues. 
  • Come prepared with a thoughtful and well-researched question. Unlike in-person Town Halls, in virtual ones staff can screen your questions.
  • Follow the same process for developing your plan in a Virtual Meeting: What do you want them to do? Why? What is the local impact? What’s the personal story?
  • Thank them publicly and privately and Follow Up
  • Tell ICBA about the meeting ([email protected])

Personalize and Diversify Follow-up

  • 65% of staff say they are receiving significantly more communications from constituents, which means your follow-up needs to be helpful, personalized, diversified by channel (email, call, Facebook, Twitter) and timely.
  • Community banking offers solutions for Congress, so positioning yourself as a resource will help the staffer do their job and in turn the Member. Community banks, like yours, provided more than half of all Paycheck Protection Program loans and more than 70% of the ones to minority-owned small businesses. 
  • Your experience building relationships with your clients will give you an advantage when building relationships with staff; just like you personalize the relationship with your clients, make your advocacy personal as well, particularly since this isn’t an in-person meeting.
  • Contact your Hill contact regularly at relevant times. Forward them the letters we send up to Capitol Hill, available here, once a week. Respond to ICBA grassroots alerts to their office as News Watch Today pushes them out (also available in our action center) and share them with your coworkers.
  • When you read something in the local news, their newsletter or on social media that you have insight into, let them know. And, after a meeting, be sure to thank them (privately and publicly), recap the meeting, answer any questions and make our Asks. 
  • Hill staff say that only 8% of constituents provide timely, helpful follow-up. If you provide both, they’ll be thrilled to talk to you. 
  • Not following up IS following up. Your staffer won’t think it’s important unless you, an expert, let them know.

1) 2020 survey of House and Senate senior staff, published in The Future of Citizen Engagement: Coronavirus, Congress, and Constituent Communications, Congressional Management Foundation, 2020.